Turn on ESPN, or look at basically any media outlet that covers college football, and you'll find someone railing against the current BCS system. And with good reason. Brian has his well-reasoned alternative here. Today, Andy Staples informed us that the athletic directors of the Big 12 conference, fresh off Oklahoma State's BCS snub in favor of a regional contest between teams that already played each other, have tentatively backed the idea of a seeded 4-team tournament:
Monday, Big 12 athletic directors voted in a straw poll to get behind the idea of a plus-one format that would allow four teams to compete for the national title. Such a format would have allowed USC to play for the national title in 2003, Auburn to play for it in 2004, Texas to play for it in 2008 and Oklahoma State -- which finished behind No. 2 Alabama by the slimmest of margins in the BCS standings -- to play for the title this season. If the league's presidents choose to agree with their athletic directors, the Big 12's support would be a huge step forward. The Big 12 was one of several leagues that blocked SEC commissioner Mike Slive's 2008 proposal for a four-team, seeded tournament. The ACC was the only conference that supported the plan.
Then he goes on to say that the Big 10 is the lone holdout:
From their standpoint, that is the sensible position. That's why the Big Ten will likely offer the most resistance to any plus-one plan if it gets proposed prior to the next BCS annual meeting in April. Commissioner Jim Delany is a master at getting his colleagues to agree to do what is best for the Big Ten, and the Big Ten is better off without a playoff. Because the league contains huge schools with passionate fan bases, the old bowl system actually is the most advantageous for the Big Ten.
Then there's a bunch of "well we don't really know how it would work" stuff that demonstrates how far off this idea still is from becoming reality.
The problems at hand:
The sticking points are, according to Staples:
1. Resistance from the Big 10 ADs and from school presidents generally, who don't want to extend the season further into January and who like the bowl-system
2. Resistance from TV networks, who like the bowl-system
This is only part of the problem. Other issues he doesn't bring up include:
3. A tendency in American sports to keep expanding and expanding tournament brackets. Look at the NBA, NFL, MLB and even NCAAB. Anyone who thinks that this would end at 4, or even at 6, is kidding themselves. Once the cat's out of the bag, it's only a matter of time before it becomes 8, then 16, then 32.
4. NCAA football is unique in the sense that every single game matters absolutely. The more postseason play you have, the more watered down this becomes. This, in turn, could reduce interest in regular-season play, a la March Madness.*
These are, in my opinion, the underlying reasons why school presidents and ADs are opposed to a playoff. Unlike basketball or baseball, football is extremely physically taxing, and requires massive hours of practice, conditioning and preparation. It causes lots of injuries, and takes a lot of time away from schooling just to get ready for a single game. But the ADs and presidents were all okay with adding a 12th game, you say? Yes that's true, and it's a bit hypocritical. But that's where we are with the people pulling the trigger on this thing.
What an alternative to the BCS would have to look like:
Any viable alternative to the BCS, and by viable I mean palatable to ADs and school presidents, needs to do the following things:
1. Preserve the bowl system
2. Not extend the season far beyond its already extended point
3. Not threaten to engulf the regular season by morphing into an actual tournament
So what are the alternatives?
1. A "+1"
Go back to the old way of picking bowl participants (thus satisfying the Big 10 and Pac 12), and then have a game at the end pitting #1 against #2.
LIKELIHOOD: Low. This appeals to me, as someone who's always liked the ideosyncracies and old traditions of college football. But there's a lot of path dependency going on here, and I don't know if the NCAA would ditch the BCS selection process entirely at this point.
2. A pseudo "+1"
Keep the BCS, but instead of having a #1 vs. #2 game, have the BCS bowls all pick by lots, then schedule #1 vs. #2
LIKELIHOOD: High. I don't think this completely solves the selection issue, but it does sidestep the potential tournament problems that seem to be a sticking point. This would, at least, give the NCAA a decade of breathing space before the pitchforks and torches get too numerous to ignore...just like the BCS did.
3. A 4-team tournament
Have two bowls choose the top 4 teams, seeded, and then have the +1
LIKELIHOOD: Fair. This does solve the selection problem, but opens the door to more expansion, which I believe to be the ultimate fear of the ADs and school presidents who are backing the BCS. Still, it's not impossible given this year's BCS catastrophe.
4. A 6+ team tournament.
At least 6 seeded teams playing each other.
LIKEIHOOD: Low. Brian's suggestion is sensible and would make for good drama, but it potentially suggests 2+ games to the end of the season. The only way this becomes reality in the short-term is if ADs and school presidents agree to shorten the regular season, which ain't gonna happen.
5. Keep the current crappy system with some new window dressing to make it look, to its architects if to no one else, as if something has changed.
All Hail the BCS and its Opaque and Frustrating Selection Process.
LIKELIHOOD: Very High. Institutions are incredibly conservative things, and college football is, at base, a collection of autonomous institutions bound together by a host of decentralized institutions (conferences) loosely bound under an umbrella association with only limited authority and decision-making power (the NCAA). The NFL it ain't. This makes the most conservative solution the most likely, and keeping things mostly as they are = the most conservative solution. Don't believe me? Just wait and see...
As per previous diaries, I've just outlined some scenarios and argued why I think they are likely or unlikely. I'd like to ask all of you the following questions in your comments:
1. Which scenarios do you think are the most and least likely? Why or why not? Are there any I missed?
2. What system would actually be best for the sport, and for the student athletes who play it while enrolled full-time in college?
*March Madness has its own uniquely endearing qualities to it: IMO it's the best tournament in American sports. Not a diss here, but just because it works in one sport doesn't mean it's appropriate or feasible for another.